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How to Calculate Menu Prices: A Visual Guide for Restaurateurs

Running a successful restaurant isn't just about serving delicious dishes or culinary artistry; it’s also about keeping a business mindset. After all, you must sustain your restaurant’s operations. Here, one of the factors that keeps the lights on is menu pricing.

When setting your menu prices, keep in mind how you want customers to perceive the value of your offerings while considering your restaurant’s profitability. It’s a balancing act, as you must consider various costs, including raw materials, kitchen equipment, staff salaries, rent, marketing, and more. 

Learn more about how to calculate menu prices from this infographic.

How to Calculate Menu Prices

Before diving into the intricacies of menu pricing, let us first discuss the fundamental factors that affect the selling price of restaurant meals. 

Three Factors That Affect Menu Pricing

Setting the right menu prices requires understanding the cost of various factors that make up your restaurant. These include:

  • Direct costs 

Direct costs include all the expenses of creating a dish, such as the ingredients sourced for recipes, as well as disposable utensils, napkins, and other one-time-use items.

For instance, shrimp, fish, and spices would fall under direct costs in a seafood restaurant. 

The cost of ingredients directly impacts the overall expense of producing a menu item. Managing ingredient costs means sourcing quality products at reasonable prices and negotiating with suppliers.

Disposables seem minor but contribute to the total cost, especially if your restaurant receives numerous takeout and delivery orders.

  • Indirect costs 

These are non-food expenses. Indirect costs include dinnerware, cutlery, and other essential equipment for serving meals like trays. While not directly tied to menu dishes, these costs still impact your restaurant's bottom line. Hence, you must factor them into menu pricing decisions.

Investing in quality tableware may incur a higher upfront cost but can lead to long-term savings by reducing how often you need to replace them. It also reinforces customers' perception of a premium dining experience, which can justify reasonably boosting menu prices.

  • Overhead costs

Overhead costs represent all the costs to keep the restaurant running—rent or mortgage payments, utilities such as electricity and water, and your staff’s salaries. To cover these, you must distribute the expenses among your menu items.

Suppose you have a restaurant in a prime location downtown. In that case, you may have higher rent and utility expenses to offset these overhead costs, resulting in slightly higher menu prices.

How to Calculate Food Cost Percentage per Serving

Food cost percentage (FCP) is the ratio of the cost of ingredients used to prepare a dish to its selling price. This metric is a powerful tool for assessing each menu item's profitability. 

A lower FCP means healthier profit margins, whereas a higher amount means spending too much on ingredients. You may need to double-check everything and see if any over-portioning, food waste, or pilferage occurs in your restaurant.

Calculating FCP follows this formula: Cost of ingredients ÷ Selling price x 100

Say you have a dish that costs $5 to make, and you sell it on your menu for $20. Plugging all the information into the formula will look like this:

  • Food cost percentage = (5 / 20) x 100
  • Food cost percentage = 0.25 × 100 = 25%

The food cost percentage is 25%. This number means that 25% of the menu price covers the ingredients' cost, leaving you with a 75% gross profit margin. According to a recent survey, the industry benchmark food costs are 35%

Identifying and analyzing menu items using this formula allows you to make adjustments and maximize profits. You can set competitive prices while maintaining your desired profit margins and covering the costs of ingredients.

3 Restaurant Menu Pricing Methods

You can apply different pricing methods when setting up your menu to reap the most advantage. The right choice can impact your profits, competitiveness, and customers' views of your establishment.

  • Cost-plus pricing

Cost-plus pricing is among the most common strategies. It involves determining the cost of producing a dish and adding the desired percentage as profit. Through this method, you can cover all expenses and guarantee profit.

For instance, you have a dish that costs $10 to make, and you want a profit percentage of 50%. The formula would be as follows:

Selling Price = Cost of producing the dish + (Cost of producing the dish × Profit percentage)

Selling Price = $10.00 + ($10.00 × 0.50)

Selling Price = $15.00

Its simplicity is also its main disadvantage, as it does not take into account market demand, competitor prices, or customer perceptions of value. On the downside, it risks setting prices too high for the market to bear or too low for the full value your restaurant offers.

  • Competitive pricing

Looking at similar restaurants in your area gives you a good idea of what they charge for their dishes. You can then use this information to price your menu within that range to keep yourself competitive, presenting yourself as an option for price-conscious customers.

If the average price of a particular dish is around $12, you can sell it for around that much or slightly cheaper as long as you still make a profit. 

However, competitive pricing can lead to continuous price adjustments in response to competitors' actions, potentially initiating a price war. This race to the bottom can severely erode profit margins as restaurants continuously undercut each other to attract price-sensitive customers.

  • Value-based pricing

If you have confidence in your worth, you can try value-based pricing. Here, you set menu prices based on what you think a customer is willing to pay. The rate should consider factors such as the dining experience, the dish’s unique features, and the quality of ingredients.

This strategy is very effective if you run a fine-dining restaurant that offers incomparable experiences, from farm-to-table dining to molecular gastronomy. When setting menu prices, you might better understand how much your customers are willing to pay by asking for their feedback.

These menu pricing methods do not mean you should stick to just one strategy. You can combine them if you believe that approach will provide more sustainability for your restaurant. Make sure to take into account every facet of restaurant operations and compare how each method will work before finalizing your menu.

Profitable Menu Pricing Tips

Offering value to customers while staying profitable is a balancing act. Here are some tips for pricing your menu:

  • Consider the type of restaurant

What type of establishment you run significantly affects how customers perceive your brand and, thus, your pricing. 

Fine dining restaurants offer more expensive dishes due to the quality of ingredients, experience, and ambiance. If you use rarer ingredients, such as truffle or Kobe beef, you can justify higher pricing because of how much of a premium you must pay to obtain them.

On the other hand, fast food joints provide meals at affordable prices while offering a quick and convenient dining experience that doesn’t compromise on taste or freshness. 

  • Create a menu matrix to categorize items based on profitability

A menu matrix is a powerful tool that allows you to list every dish you offer and see how it performs. Your matrix may include these categories:

Cash Cow

High Volume; Low Profit


High Volume; High Profit


Low Volume; Low Profit

Question Marks

Low Volume; High Profit


Since not all menu items can be both highly profitable and popular, you could create a mix of items that evens out these differences. Try balancing your offerings with both "stars" (high profit and high volume) and "cash cows" (lower profit but high volume to optimize revenue and customer satisfaction.

Then, regularly assess and update your menu matrix to keep up with customer preferences, food trends, and marketing strategies. 

  • Find the balance between high-cost and low-cost menu items

Customers have different spending capabilities, so a mix of high- and low-cost items is more inclusive, allowing them to choose meals that align with their budget. For example, you could offer premium dishes like a steak with top-tier ingredients alongside more budget-friendly options like pasta or salads. 

Having a balance of high and low-cost dishes also means you can manage ingredients more efficiently, as you know what goes into each food item and how much demand there is.

  • Periodically review and adjust food costs

The food industry is constantly in flux, with different ingredients being in season and trends shifting customer interests. Regularly reassessing costs can protect your bottom line, allowing your menu to remain sustainable and cover your expenses.

One of the ways you can keep pricing reasonable and profitable is by periodically negotiating with your suppliers. If you have strong relationships, they can give you better pricing agreements, discounts, or more favorable terms. You can get your ingredients at a bargain and still give your customers high-quality meals.

It’s also crucial to keep an eye on the market. Attend trade shows and speak with others in the culinary community to know the trends. Then, you can adjust your menu and possibly have ideas for new dishes with the information you gather.

  • Account for overhead and indirect expenses

You probably consider staff efficiency and what you can streamline to keep costs low. However, a restaurant has more costs other than ingredients and labor. Rent, utilities, and even the cutlery you use all go into pricing. 

It’s best to consider every aspect, including overhead and indirect expenses. Spread all these costs into your menu items and factor in profits. 

You may also want to invest in more durable restaurant equipment so you don’t have to keep replacing them. An efficient kitchen is critical, as more meals served means more revenue.

Keep Your Restaurant Running Through Smart Pricing

Mastering how to price your menu items is one of the vital pillars of running a successful restaurant. 

By considering factors such as your type of establishment, balancing high-cost and low-cost items, and accounting for overhead and indirect expenses, you can create a formula for customer satisfaction and profitability.
You could also elevate your restaurant's performance with top-of-the-line equipment from Charlie's Fixtures. Our supplies can modernize your kitchen and empower your staff to perform more efficiently. Explore our range of restaurant equipment to remain competitive in the food industry!

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